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Dan the Man's Movie Reviews

All my aimless thoughts, ideas, and ramblings, all packed into one site!

Calvary (2014)


Catholicism is still “a thing”? Could have swore Kabbalah was going to take the world by storm.

Father James Lavelle (Brendan Gleeson) is the priest of a small town in Ireland. He’s a stand-up guy who gets a joke quickly, has a daughter (Kelly Reilly) that he loves and cares for so very much, has a past that’s none too pretty, and is always there to try and make those around him happy. So when he hears somebody utter in confession that they’re going to give him a week, until they take him out to the beach and kill him, it’s a bit of a shock. However, that’s sort of the point as the killer states that they want to kill a “good priest”, rather than a bad one who did bad stuff like rape, or any sort of sexual abuse. Though Father knows who this person is, he doesn’t spill the beans and instead, lives this whole next week of his life, as if it was his last. Because, hell, it might as very well be.

And if you want to have some fun with that plot-synopsis up above, you can include the term “drinking beer”, at the end of every sentence because it totally fits. It’s a movie that takes place in Ireland, a very poor part of Ireland to be exact, and well, features a whole lot of drinking, smoking and dancing, like all Irish men and women are known to be doing. Take it from one, will ya?

"Say your forgiveness, one more time."

“Say your forgiveness, one more time.”

Anyway, what’s so interesting about this movie isn’t the premise (although it comes pretty close), it’s more in watching how each and everyone of these characters in this small town, interact with one another; particularly Father Lavelle. And because he is our center-of-command for the movie, we spend time with him and see everything he sees, encounter who he encounters, and goes through whatever he is going through at that particular time. It’s a necessary move writer/director John Michael McDonagh needed to pull off, because in order to get where this character is coming from, we’d need to see what it is about him that makes him such a likable guy.

Well, for starters, it’s the fact that it’s Brendan Gleeson playing him. I don’t know if any of you know this by now, but Brendan Gleeson is a big, lovely guy, no matter what the movie it is that he shows up in. Here, as Father, he gets to show that warm charm we all know and love him for, although, this time, it may be a bit darker. This character is a very broken and troubled guy, but what he does best is that he never throws his problems onto those around him. He’s the one there for the listening, so he’s going to keep on doing that, no matter how many church-goers it has him lose.

So yeah, Gleeson’s great as Father Levelle, but it’s also the rest of the cast that’s pretty phenomenal as well; which mostly has to do with the fact that, in the way they are written, they have a sort of one-note personality, but use it so well that it hardly ever seems to be poorly-written or lazy. Most of them just seem like real people you’d meet in a small, Irish town like this. Presumably getting absolutely wasted at the local bar, but hey, that’s what one expects in Ireland, right?

Playing Father’s confused, near-suicidal daughter is Kelly Reilly and she’s a lovely little gal, showing that there’s more to her than just a possible basket case; Chris O’Dowd plays a joking-butcher whose wife sleeps around on him; Isaach de Bankolé plays the man who she’s sleeping with; M. Emmet Walsh plays a very old, nearly-senile old man; and Aidan Gillen plays a doctor that doesn’t believe in God, and even if he does, he doesn’t think he’s not all as nice as he’s been made out to be in other pieces. The whole supporting cast is great and show up every so often, work with this script, make it funny and liven the tone up, because once it gets down and out, there’s hardly ever a moment for it to come back up and alive, and waiting for us to smile and jump for joy because of it.

Which is to say that it’s bleakness is what actually bothered me. And I’m not saying that in the way that it made me want to stopped being so depressed, but I’m saying that because, after awhile, the movie only seems to go one way. Early on, there was a nice juggle between comedy and drama, but later on in the movie, the drama took over and it got darker and darker with each and every second.

"No more killing, son."

“No more killing, son.”

But I didn’t know why? I understand that John Michael McDonagh wanted to present a portrait of a better, more friendlier-version of the Church and the fathers who work their butts off everyday just to make sure we’re happy with who won American Idol. And he keeps at this for quite awhile, but eventually, it makes you wonder, why so bleak to begin with? Better yet, why did the ending have to be such a drag to where it felt like it deserved the constant clock-checking. Not to say the later portions of this movie are even bad, it’s just that when this movie has a clear idea on its head, it goes for it and doesn’t really change things up.

Which is a bit of a shame, because the first-thirds of this movie is pretty funny. Even if the situations they were thrown into, or talk about, that may have seem dark, the movie still found a way to rub its comedic-bone off of all of us. It’s what you’d expect from a movie by the brother of the writer/director of In Bruges, but it’s something I’d also totally expect from a group of Irishmen.

By the way, the drinks are on me.

Consensus: As it gets deeper and deeper into its own mystery, Calvary loses its meaning, but for the most part, because of the well-written characters and wonderful performances from the ensemble, it mostly works.

 7 / 10 = Rental!!

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

The redder the hair, the more related they have got to be.

Photo’s Credit to: Goggle Images

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8 responses to “Calvary (2014)

  1. Niall McArdle August 6, 2014 at 4:03 am

    good review; i’ve heard excellent things about this and it was a huge hit in Ireland with critics. By the way, M Emmet Walsh is still alive? Jesus

  2. Rich August 6, 2014 at 5:25 am

    I absolutely loved this, film of the year for me so far.

  3. Joan Fuchsman August 6, 2014 at 11:18 am

    Enjoyed your review. I pretty much agree with you.
    I was lucky enough to see this in a screening with the director and Gleeson with a q/a afterwards.One of the things that McDonagh said was that he was surprised at how much our audience laughed. He and Gleeson also had a vigorous discussion about the present day Catholic Church in Ireland. All in all, very interesting.

  4. Kelly Wilson August 6, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    I figured this movie was on your radar after seeing a few recent McDonagh reviews here (one by each brother?).

    I think that just as early Christians aspired to explain how the morale-crushing death of Christ – what happened on CALVARY – could possibly be reconciling, so also the viewer of this McDonagh film has to contemplate what possible good can come from killing a man of the calibre of Father James.

    It strikes me that however bleak certain things are about this film, the film remains one of hope and of possible reconciliation. Contrasted against the darkness throughout the film, that “message” is even more powerfully accentuated. I thought.

    So far as I know, I am the only Catholic priest to yet respond to this film:

    http://ponderingsofapriest.wordpress.com/2014/06/28/calvary/

  5. drakulus23 August 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    I’ll probably wait for it to hit Netflix before watching it.

  6. Pingback: Calvary (2014) | Tinseltown Times

  7. Tom August 8, 2014 at 2:08 am

    Great review dude, I’m really anticipating this one still. It does sound dark, though. Definitely darker than The Grand Seduction!

  8. Kevin @ AFI Challenge August 11, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I agree that the film got too dark (and a bit self-indulgent) as it dragged on, but I thought it did work perfectly with the ending. SPOILERS HERE, but just as Jesus died for the sins of others on Calvary, Levelle died for the sins of the Catholic Church at large. At the very least, I found that aspect to be poetic.
    Overall, I agree with your rating, it’s a good, but not great movie.

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